Chelsea Cruise Through to the Knockout Stages

by - November 23, 2017

Chelsea made the long trip east to play Qarabag in the hostile atmosphere of the Olympic Stadium in Baku knowing that a win for Antonio Conte’s side would qualify them for the knockout stages.

Despite comfortably winning the opening home match against Qarabag 6-0, this was a tie that The Blues could not take lightly after the Azerbaijani’s back to back draws against Atlético Madrid. And a solid looking 5-4-1 formation from the hosts would mean that it would be a stern test for the Londoners.

Conte decided to rest Cahill, Christensen, Bakayoko and Morata ahead of the important trip away to Liverpool coming up this Saturday teatime. Rudiger and Luiz were reinstated in defence whilst a change in formation back to a 3-4-3 meant Pedro and Willian would play in attack alongside Hazard.

The match started with fairly cagey opening spell in which the most noteworthy comment would be the constant jeering and whistling whenever Chelsea were in possession. As the front 3 intermixed their positions, Fabregas regularly tried to unlock the tight defence but he couldn’t get his angles quite right. Then on 13 minutes, Medvedev broke through into the visitor’s penalty box to set up Michel, who’s rasping shot rebounded back off the woodwork.

Then the key moment was then on 19 minutes. A perfectly weighted through ball down the middle from Hazard allowed Willian to get goal side of his defender and Sadygov could only hold onto to Willian’s arm in a vain attempt to prevent his progress. A penalty and a red card for Qarabag’s captain ensued. A very calm Hazard slotted home the spot kick and the match the had a very different complexion to it.
Eden Hazard and Willian
For the hosts, the rest of the match was purely damage limitation. Chelsea could attack at will and with more space for Fabregas in midfield they could concentrate on ensuring their win. And so on 35 minutes a delightful passing sequence, including a back flick from Hazard, ended with Willian tucking in a neat finish to make it 2-0.

The second half would allow Conte to make changes and rest more of his key players whilst his side could dominate the play. A second penalty, again awarded for Willian’s marker holding him back, was converted eventually by Fabregas and a 20 yard rifled strike from Willian made the final score 4-0.

Alonso, Hazard and Kante were able to put their feet up a little early while Cahill, Morata and Drinkwater all were given a run out. A very efficient all round performance would be just what the manager wanted whilst the matches are coming thick and fast.

With 10 men, Qarabag really could not get enough players forward to mount any meaningful chances and only mustered 1 attempt on target all match. The first penalty decision was clearly the significant turning point but surely Chelsea had far too much for their hosts to deal with all match. Even if Michel’s early strike had gone in and no penalty had been awarded, the win would have been the same but with a different margin. With Hazard and Willian (on his 200th Chelsea appearance) in devastating form this match only ever had one outcome.

Written by Jon Ellis, Chelsea FC home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on twitter: @ClitheroeBlue

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